If you want to see the impact of local economic development, particularly in the medical community, you need look no further than Keene Street.
The area was once a church campground. In the 1960s it was an 80-acre farm with a house and barn owned by Byron Keene, who raised saddle horses.
Keene was hard of hearing and had a gravelly voice that many people misinterpreted as gruff. He ran a plumbing business at Sixth Street and Broadway in the building that now houses Lucy’s Corner Café. When Keene purchased the building in 1963, it was a vacant Phillips 66 gas station. In the 1980s, it would be home to Ron’s Country Boy.
The north and south ends of what would become Keene Street were annexed in 1962 and 1964 respectively. The first building in the area was the Rodeway Inn, completed in 1969, which later became the Best Western Columbia Inn. But the catalyst for Keene Street’s development came in 1968, when a group of doctors negotiated with Byron Keene to purchase 20 acres of his farm in order to build Boone Clinic.
Attorney Marvin Young started the rezoning process for the development but left Columbia to become general counsel for Peabody Coal Co. in St. Louis. Attorney Dave Knight then became the lawyer for the doctors’ new corporation, Boonedoc’s Enterprises Inc., which purchased the tract of land from Byron and Gail Keene on April 19, 1968, in order to build a proposed $1 million, 15,000 square-foot medical multi-specialty clinic. Original plans called for an adjoining nursing home, but it was not built.
The group selected the location because of its proximity to Interstate 70 and the new, somewhat improved U.S. Highway 63, which was being built in sections, starting in 1963. Finished by about 1970, the highway still only had two lanes.
Getting the zoning changed for the clinic was difficult, and Byron Keene got very discouraged for a time. The land was zoned R-1, for single-family dwellings, and needed to be zoned C-1, for intermediate business, if the doctors were to build the clinic.
I remember him visiting me several times in the Howard Building, the old city hall, but especially following his zoning request for the Boone Clinic, which would later be followed by Columbia Regional Hospital, Columbia Orthopaedic Group and other major medical buildings in the area. At that time, my title was director of public works/city engineer, but I had served concurrently as acting planning director and a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission when the city’s 1937 Master Plan was updated. I supported the rezoning and construction of a connecting thoroughfare, which became Keene Street, from Highway WW to the I-70 outer roadway.
The Planning and Zoning Commission hearings began in November 1967. City Planner E.F. Finnson argued that the clinic’s footprint of only 20 acres of the total 56-acre tract would leave no buffer for surrounding residential zoning, but in December the commission recommended to the City Council that the plan be approved despite Finnson’s objection.
Another area of contention was bus service to the facility. But the council passed the plan a couple months later, and construction began soon after. Mayor George Nickolaus, Richard Knipp, Orville E. Hobart, Ralph Maledy and Eugene F. Ruether Jr. were on the City Council at that time.
Originally slated for completion in 1970, it was 1974 before the clinic could open its doors. For one thing, Keene Street was a dirt road and had to be built. In April 1968, the City Council reapproved the city staff’s street improvement plan, which included Keene Street along with 19 others at a total cost of $41,000, and in July passed an ordinance approving its construction. The city received two bids, and I recommended that the council accept the bid by Boyce Construction Co. of Columbia for $55,000.
There’s a reason Keene Street curves as you pass the Keene Medical Building headed south. Byron Keene didn’t want to lose his barn, so we engineered the street to go between his house and barn. Although the city usually pays to widen such streets from 32 to 37 feet, it couldn’t afford the cost at that time. Because he wanted a concrete street, Keene agreed to pay the extra cost, in addition to paying for the extra pavement width and thickness if the city would do the engineering.
Byron Keene met all the challenges, including the zoning hassles, the new improved street requirements and utilities to support the development. He also would face a months-long battle over a revised sketch plat for his Keene Estates subdivision nearby, which would pass in November 1969.
By 1972, the Columbia Orthopaedic Group decided to build a new hospital and clinic to house the group. They wanted a location near Boone Hospital that would be visible to both Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 63. Constructing the new Columbia Regional Hospital required more rezoning, which was another challenge to Keene and the group’s doctors: Garth Russell, John Payne, Glenn McElroy and John Hickcox.
In the years since, numerous medical offices and other businesses have sprouted on the former Keene property. Jack Nowell opened his second Nowell’s grocery store, now Patricia’s, at the north end of the street in April 1979. In 1985, the Guest House of America began construction on a hotel and efficiency apartment facility for outpatients. It is now the Holiday Inn Express, and it led to other nearby hotels, including the Stonebridge Motel and the Wingate and Candlewood Inns.
Among others, Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance, the Missouri State High School Activities Association, Primaris, Keeneland Downs apartments, Boone Landing retirement home, and a new Landmark Bank branch all call Keene Street home. More than 2,000 employees work at businesses on Keene, according to a May 2007 study by Crawford, Bunte and Brammeier of St. Louis, and the land carries an estimated appraised value of $180 million.
The orderly development and redevelopment of a city involves not only the city and its planning, but also land owners, investors, developers and those who want to do business and live in our city. In my annual budget messages as city manager, one strategy included maintaining a strong central city with orderly development extending outward. There are many reasons for this strategy, along with many challenges to its proper implementation.
The timing for the development or redevelopment of land is primarily determined by the landowners. Byron Keene would be proud of the developments on Keene Street, which started with a group of visionary doctors and a landowner who felt the time was right to begin development of his farm while saving his barn for the time being. Today the barn is gone, but the curve in the street remains as a reminder of an owner’s dedication to his saddle horses.